The holiday season, as Andy Williams so famously sings each December, is “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” The glimmering lights of a Christmas tree, the taste of fresh-baked sugar cookies, and the sound of jingle bells remind me of my childhood, when my only concern was what I’d put on my annual wish list to Santa. Did I want a scooter? A PS2? A pair of headphones? I made my list, and the big man in red always checked it twice, leaving unwrapped presents under the tree each Christmas.
The joy of Christmas doesn’t come from the gifts we receive, though. It’s the traditions, the quiet moments with family, and the act of giving that make Christmas so special for me. Whether we’re baking Grandma’s favorite cookies or watching National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation for the hundredth time, I’ll always cherish the memories I make each December with my closest family and friends. It’s this time of the year, in particular, that reminds me of the things I appreciate the most in my life.
Unfortunately, that anxious, greedy child in me lashes out when I think of the Minnesota Vikings. They’re 8-3, sitting alone atop the NFC North, and yet, I want more from my favorite football team. With Christmas just 24 days away and the stress of holiday shopping upon us, there’s no better time than the present to start a new tradition at Vikings Territory and share my grown-up, Vikings Christmas list with you. Hey, maybe Santa will deliver a few of these presents by season’s end.
A Win at Lambeau Field (and a Playoff Win)
Watching Aaron Rodgers beat the Vikings at Lambeau field is like opening a present and finding socks on Christmas morning. If you’re like me, you receive a few pairs of socks in your stocking each year, and you’ve come to expect them every Christmas. It’s the same thing with the Vikings in Green Bay — they haven’t won at Lambeau since 2009, and I’ve gotten to the point where a road win against the Packers seems impossible these days.
If their first game against the Packers this season was any indication, the Vikings have plenty of work to do before the two teams meet again in Week 17. The matchup could very well play out the same way it did in 2012, when the Vikings needed to beat the Packers in the final game of the season to reach the playoffs. This time, though, the Vikings could be competing to clinch the NFC North. A win in Lambeau that week would almost guarantee the Vikings reach the playoffs, and that win would be made even sweeter with Minnesota’s first postseason victory since 2012.
I’m tired of socks in my stocking, and I’m tired of Aaron Rodgers beating the Vikings at home. It’s time for a new present each year.
An NFC North Crown
This item on my wish list relies heavily on the my previous request for Santa. If the Vikings are going to win the NFC North, they’ll need to keep pace ahead of the Packers and beat Green Bay in a critical Week 17 matchup. Fortunately, they’ve already laid the groundwork for their first division title since 2009. Last season, the Vikings finished with a 1-5 record against division opponents, with their lone win coming in a meaningless game against the Chicago Bears in Week 17. This season, they’re much improved, with a combined 3-1 record against the Lions, Bears, and Packers.
Christmas came early for Minnesota when the regular season schedule was released, as the Vikings played the Lions twice before Week 8. With those two games and a win at Soldier Field in the books, Mike Zimmer and the Vikings are firmly in control of their destiny. Can they pull a Santa and deliver fans a neatly-wrapped division title under the Christmas tree?
A Rushing Title for Adrian Peterson
What Peterson is doing at 30-years-old is astonishing. At an age when running backs are supposed to be slumping, Peterson is thriving. He leads the league with 1,164 rushing yards and is by far the NFL’s most explosive running back, with long runs of 25, 43, 48, 23, 75, 80 and 35 yards in separate games. Against the Falcons, he looked like a man possessed, gashing Atlanta’s then top-ranked rushing defense for 158 yards on 29 carries. At this pace, he’ll become the first 30-year-old winner of the rushing title since Curtis Martin in 2004.
I criticized Peterson for his decisions this offseason, and at times, have been frustrated with his play this year (especially out of the shotgun). But it’s the holiday season, and I should be thankful that Peterson is carrying the team despite their offensive struggles. Without him, the Vikings may very well be 3-8.
A Heavy Dose of Antone Exum Jr.
The revolving door at strong safety needs to be closed for good. When healthy, Harrison Smith is the league’s best free safety, but he’s missing the Kam Chancellor to his Earl Thomas. Players like Andrew Sendejo and Robert Blanton have tried to fill the position, but they’ve been adequate at best this season. My wish, then, is for Mike Zimmer to name Antone Exum Jr. the starter moving forward.
Exum started Sunday’s game against the Falcons and played every snap for the Vikings defense. He finished with a tackle for loss, a fumble recovery, and allowed just 16 yards when targeted by Matt Ryan. He’s struggled to get on the field, but his strong performance last week comes at the perfect time. With injuries to Sendejo and Smith, Zimmer may have no other option but to start Exum in the secondary.
It’s a small sample size, but I’ll equate it to a bite into a delicious Christmas cookie; one taste can leave you wanting so much more.
A Repeat of Teddy Bridgewater’s 2014 Five-Game Stretch
On Teddy Bridgewater’s interception Sunday, I said this: “That was a rookie throw from a second-year quarterback with veteran expectations.” At times, I think we can be unrealistic when it comes to what we want from Bridgewater. No, he’s not lighting up the stat sheet week-in and week-out, but he’s doing enough to win the Vikings games. As I’ve said so many times, Bridgewater is a complimentary player — a game manager — at this point in his career, and that’s okay. Still, I’d like to see more of the Teddy we saw at the end of last season.
Over the last five games of 2014, he posted the league’s second-highest quarterback rating and completed more than 70 percent of his passes in four of the five contests. In that stretch, he threw eight touchdowns and averaged 8.79 yards per attempt, a sign that Bridgewater began to push the ball downfield. The second-year quarterback hasn’t been nearly as successful this season, but again, that has much to do with the return of Adrian Peterson and the offensive line’s struggles to protect the quarterback.
Much like he did to end last season, I’d love to see Bridgewater string together a series of solid performances. It would be the perfect stocking stuffer this Christmas.
What’s on your Vikings Christmas list?